We had the good fortune of connecting with Amanda Melby and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amanda, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
When I moved to LA from Cleveland in 2000, I had a pretty big ego. I had been booking work. I had joined the unions. I had a B.A. in theatre. Why would I need to be in a class? Well, after about a year of only auditioning for tiny parts in bigger productions and always getting cast as girl next door, I was dying for some challenging roles to play. So, I audited Howard Fine’s Master Scene Study class (after researching a ton of studios) and decided to enroll in his Foundations class. It was quite long – 12 weeks? – I can’t remember – and we met twice a week, during the day. It was a revelation for me. For the first time in my life, I could actually articulate how I was doing what I was doing. I solidified a technique within the many years I studied here. When my husband and I moved to Phoenix from Los Angeles, I started looking for a Scene Study class for professional actors like me to be in. I had been in Howard Fine’s Scene Study and Master Class in Los Angeles for years and, as actors, you should be in class. It keeps you sharp and expands your toolbox. I was utterly shocked to find that there was no ongoing scene study class in the entire metro Phoenix area for me to enroll in! I found a few classes, but they were short term and more were taught by people that had much less experience than I did. So, 8 months pregnant, I started Verve Studios. I taught one scene study class a week – on Tuesday nights – subleasing space. I had 6 students. My sister was coming to help me with the baby, and she’s a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, so she agreed to sub my class for the 2 weeks that she was here. From there, my class grew in size. I subleased different theatres and spaces for a few until the last space I was in moved and it was time for me to take out my own lease. I rented an 1800 SF space in the Scottsdale Airpark. Since that move, in 2011, I had been able to add classes, teachers, equipment and have been fortunate to be able to grow. We currently offer a Professional Training Program for Youth actors (ages 11-18) weekdays, weekend workouts and workshops for ages 8-18 and summer film acting camps. In 2019, we created our 30th original short films for these camps! For adults, we have the ongoing Scene Study class still on Monday nights. We rotate the other adult classes and still offer Core, Get Personal (Emotions), Commercial Acting, and Film Acting. We also offer Shakespeare, Accents and Dialects, TelePrompTer, Hosting, Improv, Voice Over, Voice and Movement and bring in a guest artist once a year to work with advanced students. We have transitioned some classes to Zoom during Covid-19 and will have moved some back to in person with distancing and masks. Verve focuses on training aspiring to working actors and just passed our 15 year anniversary.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I earned my SAG card on a McDonald’s commercial when I lived in Cleveland, Ohio. It was for a regional campaign for an $.88 menu that they were trying out. We sang and danced to the jingle: “8 for 88 and I like it!.” At the audition, I was almost paralyzed by embarrassment, but right after we started, I switched my mindset and decided to have fun. I booked it. From there, the confidence came and I booked a lot of work. I earned my SAG, AFTRA and AEA cards while I loved in Ohio. I lived and worked in MN, Washington DC, Cleveland, Los Angeles and San Diego before Phoenix. When in LA, I realized that I needed to run a parallel process for my career. The traditional route – get an agent, get jobs, get a better agent, get bigger jobs was working, but slow. So, I started learning about filmmaking so I could make my own films and networked with filmmakers so I could be pre-cast prior to auditions. In the early 2000s, I made a goals list and “play a leading role in a feature film” was on that list. I finally checked that off in 2017 with “Raising Buchanan.” There was a lot of work that went into that little tiny check mark. I commissioned the script from Bruce Dellis with some commercial residual money, developed the script with him, wrote a business plan, hired an attorney, raised the money, hired the casting director and department heads and MADE A FEATURE FILM! “Raising Buchanan” had a tremendously successful film festival run in 2019-2020 and was released in May. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, DVD, BluRay and many other platforms. https://raisingbuchanan.com/vod I used to audition for anything and everything I could. And, if I got cast, I always said yes. I’ve become pickier about saying yes in the last ten years. Taking on a project, whether it’s film or theatre, takes a tremendous amount of time and energy, and it takes me away from my family. For me to say yes now, the project has to be a challenge in some way and has to be something I haven’t done yet. I encourage all actors to take classes and to be pro-active in their careers. Go out and get what you want!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Phoenix is so full of great food and art and things to do. For Restaurants, I’m a big fan of local chefs: Mark Tarbell of Tarbell’s and the Tavern, Justin Beckett of Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail, Chrysa Roberston of Rancho Pinot. There is so much good theatre here: Stray Cat, Tempe Center for the Arts, the Herberger Theatre. Great art: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts, Phoenix Art Museum plus so many galleries. And, of course we have sports. While I don’t attend frequently, spring training games are abundant and always a fun thing to do when visiting the Valley!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Laura Durant runs Durant Communications. Durantcom, as it is known, is a free service for actors in Arizona. Filmmakers, Theatre Directors and others casting projects can post their breakdown for free and then actors on the mail list get the casting notices in their email once a week. Laura has operated this service for free for 20 years. Services like hers often carry a monthly subscription in other markets, but Laura continues to offer it a no cost. She does have a “donate” button. Laura is an essential part of the Arizona Arts community.
Other: Verve Studios: https://www.vervestudio.net Raising Buchanan: https://raisingbuchanan.com/vod
Verve Studios, Laura Durant, Raising Buchanan